by John F. Di Leo
The Wisconsin legislature has had a fascinating debate on the issue of concealed carry. For a state in which responsible deer hunting has long been a key element of the culture, this should be a slam dunk. The problem of violent crime is expanding past the cities, and as the saying goes, “when seconds count, the police are just minutes away.”
So, a state full of law-abiding citizens, many of whom were raised with firearms, for whom gun safety is already a part of children’s upbringing, should have no problem passing a concealed carry bill – especially now that the party of the law-abiding has replaced the party of the lawbreakers in both the governor's mansion and both sides of the legislature.
But there is a problem – a concern that goes far beyond the issue of gun control to encompass the entire fabric of public policy debate.
What the debate should be
Public policy debate ought to be a balance of philosophy and practical results. We must first ask whether the government has a right to be involved in the issue at all, and then, if the answer is positive, determine the most cost-effective way for government to achieve the goals, considering unintended consequences as carefully as the intended ones.
In the issue at hand, the first question is whether government has a right to take action. Well, concealed carry (by people outside law enforcement) is already banned in Wisconsin, but the Constitution says the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. Well, that settles it; government action is not only philosophically allowed in this case, it’s virtually required. The unconstitutional existing ban must be removed.
So we move on to the next question: how to cost-effectively make the appropriate change, considering the potential results.
That should only be a little harder. We ban criminals from carrying a firearm in the commission of a crime. That doesn’t work; they’re criminals, after all. The people who obey laws are the law-abiding (by definition). So we need a law that allows the law-abiding to carry concealed weapons, while still protecting the property rights of building owners who may want to forbid it within their walls. We also need to consider the possibility of user error, perhaps by requiring some training, which might also require some permitting to prove such training (and to certify that the person’s not a criminal or nut).
Sounds easy, right? Establish a standard – the law-abiding should be at least as free to carry weapons as the villains are, so that the villains fear not only the distant police, but their potential victims as well – and then build a few rational safeguards around it. Simple.
Recent experience and the fear of red tape
We ought to be able to plan the above, and be done with it. “This is good, that is bad; let’s draw rules allowing the former and reducing the odds of the latter… done.” The problem is that today’s legislators are looking at seemingly every other piece of past legislation and considering how anything and everything ever legitimately passed by legislatures has been used as a camel’s nose under a tent for greater regulatory action thereafter.
They fear setting a $5 permit fee, because some future legislature might raise it to $100. They fear setting a four-hour training requirement, because some future legislature might increase it to twelve, or twenty, or forty. They even fear requiring that nobody convicted of a major crime can get a permit, because some future legislature might expand even that most reasonable restriction, to include people with a moving violation on their record, or unpaid parking tickets, or library fines.
Such fears should be irrational. A government ought to be able to set forth a rule without being terrified of its abuse by future legislatures. Or by future executive orders from the governor’s mansion. Or by future enforcement regulations written by nameless and faceless bureaucrats deep in the cellars of government buildings.
But these fears are not irrational. They are as well-founded as any other concern in public life, because we have seen it in action for a hundred years.
A century ago, the income tax was promised to be only applied to “the rich.” That alone should have been a moral indictment of the program, of course, but it was authorized on the belief that it would never grow to be significant. Within a generation, the income tax applied to virtually all workers, it skyrocketed from a minor nuisance to a 90% confiscation at its peak, and an industry of public and private paper shufflers had to be sustained just to manage it.
The Food and Drug Administration was born in 1906, with the intention of requiring testing and safe standards for foods and drugs. A very open-ended portfolio to begin with… but oh, how even that has grown. Today they require food labeling with nutrition content that costs nothing to print, but costs the earth to research, pricing the prepared food business out of reach for today’s entrepreneurs. Today they have expanded testing requirements for drugs to be so burdensome that we are losing the industry of pharmaceutical development to foreign countries. A tragic flip is in process; thanks largely to the FDA, Japan and Europe will soon be developing the new wonder drugs, and the USA will be producing the generics… with the massive loss of economic activity that you would expect from such a shift.
The Department of Energy was formed in 1977, ostensibly to encourage the research and development of alternative fuels and fuel sources, to free America from the crippling dependence on middle east oil that caused shortages and recessions in the 1970s. Today, the Department of Energy closes down showerhead manufacturers for making showerheads that deliver too enjoyable a shower; it shuts down factories that sell Tom Edison’s incandescent bulb. It bribes people to divert corn from its proper use as a food to inefficient and foolish use as a fuel, causing shortages and economic deprivation worldwide.
The federal government has even been granted the power to regulate Carbon Dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Carbon Dioxide? The product that every human and every animal on earth exhales? How will this government – a government demonstrably incapable of understanding the concept of limits – generate responsible regulations on a chemical product produced by all the fauna – and required as a nutrient by all the flora – on this entire carbon-based planet? Answer: it won’t. The regulations will be crippling, costly, and horrific (which is all the more ghastly when we consider that it’s all based on the massive hoax of “manmade global warming”). Is this anything but a veritable invitation for regulatory overreach in every aspect of American life?
Thousands of such examples could be cited:
- Permit fees once intended to cover their own costs are now inflated to serve as a revenue source for bloated governments.
- Executive order provisions that were once intended to serve immediate needs when the legislature was out of session are now used on a daily basis whenever a governor or president can’t get his desired legislative measures through the legislative branch.
- And agency after agency, established to execute the laws of the legislature, now takes the smallest hint of authority to generate red tape that hamstrings the individual and strangles the economy.
So yes, the legislature in Wisconsin is right to be cautious. The Republicans are building conditions into their concealed carry bill – requiring reasonable training, limiting availability of permits so as not to invite abuse by the lawbreaking class. They have to be political, after all, and cannot allow absolute philosophical purity (“the Constitution guarantees our right to carry, so there!”) to be used as an unnecessary political millstone that could easily derail the entire fiscal reform agenda of Governor Scott Walker’s administration and the courageous majorities in Madison.
The lesson for our legislators
Government employees, both elected and unelected, have known of this problem for decades. Legislatures have sat by inactive as their authority has been usurped, as the executive and judicial branches have stolen authority from the legislative branches, both in Washington and in the fifty state capitols, for a hundred years.
Why have our Congressmen and Assemblymen allowed it? Or perhaps a better question is, Why have our Republicans allowed it?
We know why the Democrats have; the Democrat favors the commissar, the bureaucrat, the regulator, the czar. They know that tyranny can only be inflicted by individuals with secret and limitless power in their offices and cubicles; it’s never voted on in the light of day.
The time has come to recognize what the Wisconsin Republicans have now acknowledged: that laws must be written with a conscious eye to the likelihood of future abuse by the left. New laws must be safeguarded from unintended expansion by enemies of freedom, both elected and unelected alike. And everything on the books today must be reviewed; the time has come to roll back the unimpeded growth of the Leviathan over the past hundred years. It will take time – many election cycles – but this goal must not be forgotten or subjugated to other goals. This rollback is critical to regain our Republic.
The time has come for the Republican Party to stand up for Constitutionally limited government again. This is what the tea parties, and our nation’s ongoing Great Awakening, are all about:
It is a call to restrain the Leviathan, to muzzle its teeth, to give it a spiked electrical shock collar and to chain its four paws firmly to a post. We need a government, sure, but only a government that heels when told to, only a government that no longer delights in biting the hand that feeds it.
Copyright 2011 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicago-based Customs broker and international trade lecturer. A former county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he’s proud to have walked a couple of precincts for Scott Walker way back in his first assembly race, and wonders why on earth we can’t produce a governor like him here in Illinois!
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